Bill would consolidate or annex communities for school taxes

Posted: Sunday, January 21, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- State Sen. Gary Wilken has introduced a bill to review rural areas that should be required to become organized or annexed into boroughs with taxing authority so that residents can foot part of the bill for schools.

''I strongly believe it is the duty of all Alaskans, if possible and if capable, to help pay for their education,'' Wilken told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Wilken said the state spent more than $121 million last year on schools where no local taxes were collected and no local matching funds were provided for schools.

Under Senate Bill 48, the state Department of Community and Economic Development would annually review unorganized areas and develop a list of those that warrant annexation or incorporation.

The Local Boundary Commission would analyze the nominations, hold public hearings, and decide whether to recommend to the Legislature that organization take place. There would be public review of the proposal but the Legislature would decide if it was warranted.

The boundary commission would look at several factors, including whether the area had an economic base to provide borough services. The thrust of Wilken's bill was encapsulated in a proposal made by the boundary commission in November.

''This bill is not a punitive, it's not a predatory bill at all. It's simply a bill that asks the simple question, 'Why can't all Alaskans help pay for their K-12 education?'' Wilken said. ''This puts in place a process where we can answer it fairly.''

Elected officials representing unorganized areas do not agree.

Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, who represents communities along the Richardson Highway, is already hearing from Delta Junction and Glennallen constituents upset with Wilken's' bill. He said the measure would rob people of their ability to decide their own fate.

''It really takes away the teeth from the public,'' he said.

Delta Junction residents object that the state already taxes the pipeline running through Delta, Harris said, only sending some of that money back to Delta's schools.

Organization adds what could be unwanted responsibilities, such as platting and borough planning, he said.

Many people live in unorganized areas because they want to be free from too much government, Harris said.

''A lot of them live in rural parts of the state because they don't want services,'' he said.

Sen. Georgianna Lincoln, D-Rampart, said she fears the proposal will force small communities into boroughs controlled by urban areas. She also questioned whether there is a sufficient tax base in unorganized areas.

''I thought it was the Republicans who don't want to tax. It seems this is forcing taxation on those unorganized areas,'' she said. ''It's a mechanism to try and get blood from a turnip.''

Wilken's bill has attracted four co-sponsors. Another supporter is former Sen. Vic Fischer, D-Anchorage, a delegate to Alaska's constitutional convention.

''There are areas that are able to pay for schools and other local services that have avoided organizing as a borough,'' Fischer said. ''Senator Wilken's proposal would provide a means where an objective approach could determine which areas need to organize.''

Fischer said the proposal is not an arbitrary plan to force areas to incorporate that could not afford it. The framers of the Alaska Constitution accepted the concept that, when unorganized areas were ready to share in the state fiscal burden, there would be a process where the state could require them to do so, he said.

''It would be a step forward to live up to the Alaska Constitution,'' Fischer said.

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